- by Shari Wahl
- reporter, you and your
If you tried to get Eurovision 2023 tickets you were almost certainly disappointed – the grand final in Liverpool sold out within 36 minutes.
The feeling of missing out as soon as the sales open, then seeing inflated prices elsewhere will be familiar to many concertgoers.
But you might not have realized that you weren’t competing with other fans for those face-value tickets.
Hundreds of bots – sophisticated software that pretends to be a real person – were also in line ahead of real fans to take a place.
And it’s not just Eurovision.
Trainers, game consoles and other in-demand items are also targeted and sold at a profit by scalpers.
Now in a BBC investigation, it has come to know that how it happens so quickly.
To explain how it works, we queued up for Eurovision tickets on Tuesday and brought some experts with us.
Like many others, we quickly found ourselves 2,000 or so places from the front.
Matthew Gracie-McMinn, who works for anti-bot company Netsea, says we may be looking at, or moving towards, a digital version of Q-barging.
“Think of them as hundreds of friends,” he says.
But they are not friends. They aren’t even real. But as far as the system is concerned, they are.
“Since it’s all digital, they can kind of create random people to sneak into this imaginary queue,” Matt says.
Matt says that even the basic laptop he is using can copy thousands of people. More ambitious scalpers will turn to the cloud to recruit even more processing power.
“Imagine the big server racks you see in movies near hackers,” says Matt, describing a large room full of dedicated network equipment.
“They’re hiring cloud computing companies and taking all that power out of it.”
If you’ve ever felt like you’re unlikely to get a ticket, here’s a good chance, so here’s why.
the golden circle
There are dozens of groups using bot software to attack online queuing systems — so many, that Matt says his company can’t keep track of them all.
One, called The Golden Circle, provides members with what they need to bypass online queues.
For £99 ($118) a month they are given access to the congregation and guidance on using “queue passes” – computing codes to manipulate the ticketing system.
One of the group’s founders, Josh Silverman, makes promotional videos talking about the money made from tickets by the group’s membership of about 400 people.
Speaking to the BBC, Josh, 34 and from London, says he used the software to buy limited-run running trainers at retail price before selling them at a huge profit.
In the UK, it is illegal to use bots to buy more tickets than the promoter or venue allows.
But Golden Circle’s software doesn’t do bulk purchases — it buys small numbers of tickets in multiple transactions.
What is being done?
Since we contacted Golden Circle, the group has removed its social media presence. But there are others and the makers of queuing software describe dealing with brokers as a “constant battle”.
As companies change their systems, bot makers update their software, sometimes within minutes.
Stuart Galbraith is the promoter of Ed Sheeran and the owner of event promoter Kilimanjaro Live.
As you might expect, he has been a long-time campaigner against ticket touts.
He says that a small group of “power sellers” are behind the ticket trade in the UK, and deter customers who “could have quite legitimately bought them at face value”.
And Stuart says fans miss out in other ways.
He says, “If the touts cannot exchange tickets at the inflated price, they will not reduce the ticket price as it will spoil their market.”
“So not all tickets that are bought in bulk actually get sold.”
The BBC spoke to Labor MP Kevin Brennan, who took up our investigation at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Rishi Sunak said that access to Eurovision should be “as wide as possible”, and added that the government would “do everything we can to make sure that happens”.
Three fans agreed to share with us their efforts to buy Eurovision tickets.
Two of them actually succeeded.
Gina, who had expected to spend £30, ended up with a £380 permanent ticket.
Another fan, Scott, received two tickets for a total of £400.
Cheap tickets usually sell out faster, but bot users also target low-cost options because resale brings more profit.
Our third fan, Ed, couldn’t find one.
Andrew Earnshaw, who runs the Eurovision podcast called Eurobliss, was also unsuccessful.
Despite trying to use a laptop, an iPad and two phones to get tickets.
“One of them was clearly really working,” he says. “It took about an hour and a half to get to the front of the queue.”
When he did “there was nothing available”. Andrew says that he was the same to everyone he knew.
He says it is “very disappointing” that tickets are already on sale for so many on secondary websites.
“It’s probably not going to happen again in my lifetime.
“I can deal with it, because I tried my best – but at the same time I’m absolutely disappointed – and it’s not just me, it’s all my friends.”
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